Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Sam Roberts Band & Guided by Voices

Sam Roberts Band: Lo-Fantasy
Over the course of fourteen years and five albums, the Sam Roberts Band has gone from being a bedroom fantasy of the group’s namesake to becoming one of Canada’s most important independent bands.  Their latest release, Lo-Fantasy, builds upon their prior work while also taking advantage of their increasing momentum.  Much of this record has a sort of space-age disco feel, especially in the brilliant opener, “Shapeshifters”.  The album’s first single, “We’re All In This Together”, has a slippery sort of Jane’s Addiction groove, with the kind of chorus that will no doubt electrify any room they play, while other songs like “Metal Skin” and “Too Far” sound almost like a more upbeat Dr. Dog. 

While there is a dearth of the 60’s rock that informed such classic tracks as “The Gate”, “Love At The End Of The World”, and “Detroit ‘67”, there is a unity to this material that makes this album sound more like a complete thought than many of Sam Roberts’ albums have.  The closest they come to true rock-out mode is “Human Heat”, which almost borders on punk, but even that is layered with nuances that make it fit perfectly within the frame of this album.

“Angola” takes the dub-influenced post-punk of The Clash  and sends it barreling into the 21st century, something they continue on “The Hands Of Love”, possibly the greatest song that OMD never recorded, while “Never Enough” is perhaps the closest the Sam Roberts Band has ever come to a lighter-in-the-air anthem.   There are flirtations with electro-pop all over this album, nowhere more prevalent than on the full-on synth of “Chasing The Light”.  In the hands of a lesser band, this would have been a mess.  Sam Roberts, however, has such a distinctive writing style that it just doesn’t matter.  Now, I am sure if this song were to make it to the live stage, it would be a big, guitar-driven number, but here it’s cool.

Album Number Five is usually the point where most artists make a conscious effort to move past what is generally expected of them and, you know, shake up the formula a little bit.  Sometimes, as in the case of U2 (#5: The Joshua Tree), REM (#5: Document), and Bob Dylan (#5: Bringing It All Back Home), the results are miraculous.  And sometimes, as in the case of My Morning Jacket (#5: Evil Urges), Rilo Kiley (#5: Under The Blacklight), and Dave Matthews Band (#5: Everyday)….well the results are disastrous.

Fortunately, the Sam Roberts Band fits into the former.  Now is their time.


Guided By Voices: Motivational Jumpsuit
GbV continues to make up for lost time with their fifth new album since reuniting, just two years ago, and it is probably the best of the bunch.  The opener, “Littlest League Possible”, proves that Bob Pollard knows exactly his place in the pantheon of Rock Icons – he has seen success but his popularity is still very limited to a core group of overly-obsessive fans.  “To be the biggest fish in the smallest pond” pretty much sums it up.

To call any Guided By Voices album “bad” is to kind of miss the point.  That said, I can’t say that I was all that enthralled with last year’s English Little League.  To me, it lacked hooks and it seemed as if Bob was starting to save his best material for his solo albums, instead of the other way around.  He even hinted at it being last GbV album.  Fortunately he was just blowing smoke, because now we have Motivational Jumpsuit and it could be one of those classic GbV albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.  All the elements are there, down to the fact that most of the songs are less than two minutes long, and are filled with hooks and clever lyrics and all those other things that make a good Pollard release.

Bob Pollard has, on many occasion, preached the virtue of the “Four P’s” – pop, punk, psych, and prog – and this album delivers all.  The hilariously-titled “Writer’s Bloc” is about as prog as Bob gets, while “Child Activist” almost sounds like it should have been destined for Bob’s tripped-out Circus Devils band.  Classic GbV gets highlighted on songs like “Planet Score” and “Vote For Me Dummy”, both of which could have easily gone on some secret post-Alien Lanes album.  “Alex And The Omegas” closes the album out with some classic rawk while elsewhere, that lo-fi acoustic sound creeps up on songs like “Go Without Packing” and “A Bird With No Name”, which also features a healthy dose of noise.  “Zero Elasticity” rocks really hard and could have, in another life, been a heavy hitter in the early-2000s version of the band, but here is performed with that sort of gritty gusto that fits it just the same.

What makes this newly-reactivated GbV so great is that it includes Tobin Sprout, who has been churning out some great material on these five albums, the best of which is found here.  “Jupiter Spin” has a mid-60’s, trippy feel to it, making it worthy of its status as being his first song to ever grace the a-side of a Guided By Voices single.  “Calling Up Washington” is a neat little slice of jangle-pop, while “Some Things Are Big (and some things are small)” is about as epic as a Toby song can get, starting out gentle and acoustic before exploding into full band glory.

Much of this album recalls the “classic” period of the band, that era of fuzzy pop masterpieces that ran from 1993’s Vampire On Titus til 1996’s Under The Bushes Under The Stars, those records that made this band the greatness that it is.  That point is driven home in the cover collage, which features some kid looking on longingly at the sleeve of GbV’s iconic 1995 “Tigerbomb” EP.  This return to form is something that they have been striving for since reuniting and, finally, they seem to have it nailed.

Written by: Chris Anderson

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